Friday, March 30, 2007

Easter: “Connecting the Praises”

by Dr. Jim H. Savage.

I was just reflecting on the seasons, the seasons of life and the beauty of spring,
the beauty of God’s rhythm and of life. Then I was thinking about the rhythm of Jesus’ life. Let’s start by remembering the words of Psalm 8:3: “Imagine the heavens the work of thy fingers.” Now I want us to imagine more images in the life of Christ from birth until his death.
I want to connect the dots between Luke 2, and the story in Luke 19-20.

First, imagine a young shepherd out in the field keeping watch over his flock by night. The story says suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared unto them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said: ‘Fear not, behold I bring you, good tidings of great joy. For unto to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying ‘Glory 2 God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!’
When the angels were gone away from them they said: “Let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
So they went with hast found Mary and Joseph & the babe lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them, and all who heard this were amazed at what the shepherds had told them.

Now imagine and remember this.

Those same fields are right outside of Jerusalem. I imagine in my mind those shepherds keeping this story alive and many would laugh at them & ask ‘Where is this Savior? After 33 years now, where is this king?’

Then one day the news comes to the field.

‘Hey guys, you have got to get to Jerusalem. You will not believe what happened today. Jesus of Nazareth came today: you know the one people have talked about…that great prophet & healer.
Crowds gathered w/Palms shouting crazy stuff. “What stuff?” ‘Glory to the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.’
‘Did you say; ‘Peace in heaven? Did you say; ‘Glory in the highest heaven?’
Is that what the people were saying as they were waving palm branches?
‘Hey do you remember what those angels said 33 yrs ago? Didn’t they say, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven?’ Didn’t they say ‘Peace on earth & good will to all men?’
Wow! ‘It’s the same message of the angels from 33 years ago.
‘It sounds like some people finally believe us.’
‘We were all there when it started.’ ‘I am not going to miss it when he becomes the King of Israel. Grab your staff & let’s go see this thing that has been made known to us.

Now remember with me that all Jews were converging for Passover. If those shepherds were alive, they would certainly come to see this Jesus of Nazareth.

They certainly would have wondered:
‘Could this be the same baby from 33 years ago?
Is it a coincidence that the message is the same 33 yrs later?
Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth, good will toward men (and women).
Is it a coincidence that the message of the angels is now the message in the people in the streets of Jerusalem?

Could it be a coincidence that the message that came at birth comes again at Passover?

Why are they shouting; ‘Hosanna in the highest?’ Why are they shouting;
‘ Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord?’ Why r they shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David?’

Shouts like those are only for the Messiah!

God’s doing it at Passover: the only time the Jews came from all around to sacrifice the unblemished lamb; the lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Passover is the only time of year when Israel all got together to recognize God.

Passover is the only time Israel would actually live together for one week of Peace n this world.
God’s bringing the Messiah to Jerusalem at Passover.

How perfect is that?

Maybe today there is time for us to grab our very best lamb, & a Palm branch. I do not know about you, but in my mind I’m going to Jerusalem! The Messiah is coming & I would not miss it for the world!’ The Messiah’s at hand says the Gospel of Mark over and over.

The Messiah, who once was wrapped in swaddling clothes; now wrapped in Palm Branches---later wrapped in swaddling clothes again; but this time was lying in a tomb---a tomb that suddenly was empty---an empty tomb that changed the world! This was no ordinary empty tomb. This was an empty tomb that would change all of modern history. And now this History-Changing-Agent waits; waiting on us to Praise him, to worship him; to give him our hearts, to give him our very lives! The Passover Feast is waiting! Won’t you come to God’s table?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"GROWING TOGETHER" by Dr. Jim H. Savage

One of the key phrases that I have read recently comes from I Thessalonians 5:11; "Encourage one another and build each other up". Here we find a "commandment" from Paul. We often do not think of verses like this as commandments, but it truly is a great one. What would happen in the life of The Church, the world-wide body of Christ, if we truly began to encourage each other? What would happen if fellow church members truly accepted this challenge, and stepped up to the plate? What would happen if people in the community heard about an incredible love and acceptance in our church and in every church around the world? This verse also reminds me of our Riverchase UMC "Vision Statement" of the call of Christ to offer "Biblical-Radical Hospitality". If we start within our walls, but do not stop within our walls, then nothing can ever stop us. May the God of encouragement touch our hearts and change our lives forever. I pray that we will find ways to build up one another, and work hard to eliminate the ways we tear each other down. We can start by catching ourselves, and stopping ourselves each time we start to give a "put-down" to another human being. We can be honest with each other with being truly rude, crude, insulting, jealous, and angry. Sometime honesty can sound like a "put-down" by the other human being, but if we place our comments in the middle of all the positive things we can thing of about the other human being, then we can remain friends, and respectful of one another.

PRAYER FOR ANY DAY: "Gracious God, grant me Your peace, and the saving grace of Jesus Your son that He might truly be my savior, and my Christ, with myprayer that the entire world might come to know him. Grant me Your strength that I may strengthen others, Your courage that I may help others to take heart, Your joy that I might share a laugh with one who is down-and-out, Your insights of another's positive points, that I might have an opportunity to list them with love, and grant me the fullness of Your Holy Spirit that I might encourage all Christians that I meets, and build up all the souls around me.

The next part deals with "The Church" also and is submitted by Frank Jones

The Church - Ephesians, Chapter 1

In Ephesians 1:22,23; Paul states "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him (Jesus) to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (NIV).

In his commentary on the book of Ephesians, Chapter 1:Verses 15-23, William Barclay states that "Jesus is bit by bit filling all things in all places, and that filling is being worked out by the church." Barclay goes on to say "This is one of the most tremendous thoughts in all Christianity. It means nothing less than that God's plan for one world is in the hands of the Church."

Barclay tells about a legend which tells how Jesus went back to heaven after his time on earth. The angels were talking to him and Gabriel said; "Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there." "I did," said Jesus. "And", said Gabriel, "do they all know how you loved them and what you did for them?" "O no," said Jesus, "not yet; just now only a few people in Palestine know." "What have you done," said Gabriel, "to let everyone know about it?" Jesus said: "I have ask Peter and James and John and a few others to make it their business to tell others about me, and the others still others, and yet others, until the farthest man on the widest circle knows what I have done." Gabriel looked very doubtful for he knew well what poor stuff men were made of. "Yes," he said, "but what if Peter and James and John grow tired? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twentieth century people don't tell others about you? Haven't you made any other plans?" And Jesus answered: "I haven't made any other plans. I'm counting on them."

Barclay follows the telling of the legend by saying "To say that the Church is the Body means that Jesus is counting on us."

Barclay goes on to point out what the church should be like. "It's unity comes not from organization, or ritual, or liturgy; it comes from Christ. Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia, Where Christ is, there is the Church. The Church will realize her unity only when that she does not exist to propagate the point of view of any body of men, but to provide a home where the Spirit of Christ can dwell and where all men who love Christ can meet in that Spirit."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

40 Days Of Community Devotional "We Need Each Other" - Dr. Jim Savage

By Dr. Jim Savage, Riverchase UMC.

Yes it is true, no one is an island. We cannot survive in a healthy way without friends, support, relationships, neighbors, and a supportive church. Jesus said those immortal words about the church: “Upon this rock I’ll build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The body of Christ is not perfect, but we need each others. Paul reminds us of our individual brokenness when he says “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since none of us are perfect, and since we are all broken and in need of love and grace, we should also realize just how much we need each other.

Many people do not attend a church because they say the church is full of hypocrites, or the church is full of politics, or the church is full of snobs. This will be true some of the time, but is not true all of the time. Besides, Jesus calls us to NOT give up on the church as the body of Christ regardless of the problems, failures, or inconsistencies that may arise from time to time.

In I Corinthians Paul uses a great example by speaking about body parts to illustrate how we truly need each other. “If I were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (I Corinthians 12:19-26).

Paul then talks about various gifts and roles that we might play in this journey of life. It is true that all of us are different. This often makes it difficult for us to like each other, and can also make it difficult for us to work together. We all need our individual “space” and personal times for reflection, and spiritual contemplation, but then we realize again we are in need of “community”. We come to our senses realizing also the call of The Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. We cannot accomplish this commandment by Jesus unless we mix with the community at large. We also need the Body of Christ, The Church for mutual support, prayer support, friendships, spiritually uplifting relationships, instruction, wise counsel, and even some prodding during our weak moments of apathy.

In one translation Paul sums this up very well. “Since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others” Romans 12:5b (NLT).

Paul also gives some very practical advice as we learn to live in community with each other. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:3-6).

So we are faced with this challenge of life to find a good balance between maintaining our personal space with solitude, and continuing to engage the community in community. May God guide us as we learn to live in this ever changing world. May God grant us the wisdom and grace to one day live in peace and harmony as the body of Christ, and as the world at large. It may be impossible in this life, but our standards and goals should not be lowered just because the goals are so difficult. May God bless you as we learn “We Are Better Together”….

Winning Your Biggest Battle - Part III

I have been writing about winning our biggest battle – this year, or any year. Here are some concluding thoughts.

There is another battle, often externalized, but the essential center of which is within. It has to do with how we respond to the wrong-doing of other people. It is not just the wrongs they do us, but the wrong we see them doing. We forget the admonition of the Psalmist who said: "Fret not thyself because of evil doers" (Psalm 37:1). It is bad enough to be harmed by our own wrong-doing, but sadder still that we be done in by our attitude toward the sins of others. We want to see them get what we think they deserve. We tend to think that punishment and revenge will help our feelings, but as strange as it may seem, this only compounds our problem with the sins of others. It has been correctly observed that "revenge is the sweetest morsel to the tongue ever to come out of hell." The problem is: you never get the taste of ashes out of your mouth.

Whether the sin of others is against us personally, or against someone we love, or simply against our principles of decency, only love and forgiveness will properly settle the issue so that we may get on with our lives without letting their lives stand in our way.

We expect the church to help us deal with imperfection, failure, and sin. Ironically, the church has not always been successful in helping people deal honestly or creatively with their own sin or the sin of others. There are solutions we have inherited from the past which, more often than you might expect, do not fit the dilemmas generated by our life experiences. There is a frightening tendency on the part of those of us who are religious in conventional ways to think of society as "them" and "us." Thus, we fail to see any of "them" in "us" or "us" in "them."

For instance, we tend to regard the homeless with a condescending pity that suggests that there is nothing of them in us, or us in them. But, we all know people with houses who are homeless. We may be people with houses who are homeless. We are horrified by people who are addicted, but the truth is that we live in a society of addicts. Most of us are caught up by or recovering from something that drags us down.

Dr. Cecil Williams, long time pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in The Tenderloin in San Francisco, put addiction into perspective when he said: "When you become obsessed with anything to the extent that you rely on it for your grasp on reality, you are addicted. Some of us are addicted to substances like drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or food. Some are addicted to abusive relationships. Some of us are even addicted to religion. We crave being absolutely right about what we believe, and think that everyone else has to become like us. Toxic relationships, toxic substances, and toxic religion are all addictions from which we need recovery in order to live fully."

If the list of addictions was exhaustive, you would find most of us somewhere on it. Does that mean we have to win complete victory over our sins and addictions in order to be persons of worth? Once again, Dr. Cecil Williams, who has modeled grace better than any pastor I know, touches a sensitive nerve with this startling reminder: "Listening to church folks, you’d think that getting the spirit makes you good, perfect, and holy. But, read the Bible for yourself. The Bible is full of real, spiritual people who have messy, imperfect lives."

In order to win the big battle in life, it is necessary to give our best efforts to letting the philosophy of our faith rule our lives, so that forgiveness and love will have dominion over our inclination toward bitterness and revenge. But, as important as that may be, it is not enough. There always comes a time in which we reach the margins of our own strength. We need help – both human and divine.

What a great joy it is to find a community of faith where truth and grace dominate – where pretension and judgment are seldom seen. It is my hope and prayer that you have a place like that. How fortunate we are if we belong to a loving fellowship of people who reflect the spirit of Jesus as they pull with us and for us in our time of need.

We are greatly empowered when we believe someone else is pulling with us and for us. We need not go at it alone. There is help – human and divine. It is incumbent upon us to do all we can in the battle of life, but we are not in this fight alone.

Let me conclude this series of 3 columns with a prayer from and for us all.

We confess, O Lord, that we cannot handle the big battles of life alone. Help us to begin the process of forgiveness of those offences too heavy to carry and too serious to turn loose. Teach us to love people we do not like, enemies we had rather hate, and friends who have been careless in their relationships with us. When we reach the margins of our strength, give us loving friends to help us. And when we come to that time in which humans cannot help, we pray that you will be our strength and guide. Amen.

Winning Your Biggest Battle Part II

Last week I wrote about winning your biggest battle, and gave you an example of how one person did this. I promised to give you some things to watch out for. Here they are.

One of the most insidiously dangerous developments in our lives is the compulsion to perfection.

This usually begins with the perception that the more perfect we are the more people will love and admire us. It does not seem to matter that the very premise of this perception is untrue. People will first admire, but finally fear a person who appears to be perfect.

The compulsion to perfection has an illusion at each end. It is an illusion to think that people will love you more if you are perfect; and it is an illusion to believe that it is possible to be perfect.
Let me comment on each of these illusions. How many people do you know who are perfect, or think they are perfect? Are they people in whose presence you feel safe? I don’t know about your experience with "perfect people," but mine is not very good. I really do not enjoy the company of "perfect people." If you were able to achieve some degree of perfection, your friends would distance themselves from you in direct proportion to the perceived perfection. Who were the "perfect people" in Jesus’ day? The Pharisees. Jesus did not like them. They did not like Jesus. Their pride of perfection was a barrier. Beware of the illusion of perfection. It is a real trap.

People who have a compulsion to be perfect sooner or later begin to "fudge" when their performance does not measure up to their expectations. We begin to lie to ourselves and to others. We all suffer some from wanting to appear better than we are. We put up some kind of front that leads others to think we have it "all together" when in reality we have some fundamental fragmentation. Sometimes we become so good at misrepresenting ourselves to others that we can literally fall apart before the people around us realize what is going on.

British physician, John Abernathy, recalled seeing a patient suffering depression. After a thorough examination indicated no apparent physical problem, Dr. Abernathy said to the patient: "You need amusement. Go hear the comedian, Grimaldi. He will make you laugh, and that will be better for you than any drugs." The patient said to Dr. Abernathy: "I am Grimaldi!!" Can you hear that? The fact that an outwardly successful person may have serious inner difficulties is dramatically illustrated in a poem by E. A. Robinson.

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
It happens!

The battle within is the battle to forgive ourselves for not being perfect and to expect others to forgive us also. It is an internal battle based on our attitude toward ourselves much more than upon what others think or expect of us.

There is more – next week. Stay tuned again.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Winning Your Biggest Battle, Part 1

What is the biggest battle in your life, and what is your battle plan? Not knowing your answer to these questions, I cannot reflect on them specifically, but let me reflect on them in principle.
One of the most common mistakes many make in planning the future is trying to have a better past. Your past is never going to improve, no matter how much you rearrange it, but your future can improve if you can turn loose of the past. Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, there was an associated press story from Boston, Massachusetts, about a very unusual person. Her name is Marie Balter. At the age of 17, she was suffering severe depression and panic disorder. She was mis-diagnosed as schizophrenic and sent to Danvers State Mental Hospital where she was confined under that diagnosis for 17 years. With the help of friends and the strength of her faith she was finally released.

Her recovery was painful and gradual, but she was determined to take charge of her life. She got an apartment, got married, earned a degree in psychology from Salem State College and a Master’s Degree from Harvard in administration planning and public policy. Recently, Marie Balter returned in triumph as Administrator of the Danvers State Mental Hospital where she had spent 17 years as a patient.

What a victory for Marie Balter! She made up her mind not to continue to be a victim. She said that she would not have grown at all if she had not learned to forgive. "If you don’t learn to forgive your parents, or your children, or yourself, you never get beyond anger," said Marie Balter. "Forgiving is a way of reaching out from a bad past and heading out to a more positive future."

Not many of us will face problems of such magnitude as did Marie Balter. Not many will experience such a dramatic victory over such a traumatic situation. But, we all have our problems which are important to us. We are embattled by forces of evil and unfortunate circumstances which threaten our balance, our sanity, and sometimes even our lives.

We live in a dangerous world where accidents happen even to the most careful persons. If absolute safety is our goal, then being born was a fundamental mistake. We have difficulties of our own making. Our lives are affected by the sins, mistakes, and poor judgments of other people. There is evil in the world which brushes against our lives at unexpected times. There are natural disasters which inexplicably and capriciously destroy.

We are not always able to control the forces that cause us grief. No matter how hard we try or how careful we may be, we cannot avoid suffering, pain, and sorrow. The greatest battle in our lives, however, is not with these forces which lie beyond our control, as frightening as they may be. Our greatest battle is with ourselves. Most of our defeats come because we have not learned to fight effectively against the enemy within. We can seldom control what happens to us, but we have a tremendous margin of control over how we respond to what happens to us. That margin of control is more often than not the difference between victory and defeat.

My basic proposition is that in order to win the biggest battle of your life, you have to do wisely and intentionally all you can, but you do not have to do it all by yourself. There are people, institutions, and natural forces that will help you.

When Marie Balter got out of the mental hospital, she had some choices to make. If she had chosen to direct her energies against the people and the circumstances which caused her problem, she may well have gone back to Danvers Hospital again, but not as the administrator. She more likely would have gone back as a patient. She struggled to forgive rather than to get revenge. She worked to improve herself rather than to tear down the people and the institutions that had harmed her. She could not change what had happened, but she could control how she responded to what had happened. This was the key to her recovery, and to her return to Danvers State Mental Hospital as Administrator rather than as a patient.

There are emotional habits and styles of living which lessen our chances of winning the biggest battle in our lives. I do not know specifically what these are for you, but you know. Put up a caution sign by each of these. There are some deterrents which tend to be common to us all. I will write about them next week.

Stay tuned. Till next week...